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Contradictory Land Use Plans and Policies in Laos: Tenure Security and the Threat of Exclusion

Rikke Brandt Broegaard, Thoumthone Vongvisouk and Ole Mertz

World Development, 2017, vol. 89, issue C, 170-183

Abstract: Contradicting policies and overlapping property arrangements are common in many countries, opening doors for diverse interpretations by different actors. This requires better knowledge on how competing interests and actors interact and what determines the practical competition outcomes as demand for land intensifies and international actors get increasingly involved in regulating natural resources. Land use planning in Laos provides a case in point as it aims at strengthening tenure security, intensifying agriculture and sparing forest areas while other policies simultaneously promote agricultural development and agri-business investment that reconfigure land use and land access. Through national, provincial, district, village and household interviews, we examine how different land- and forest-related policies interact, and whether ongoing land use planning processes and land rights formalization increase tenure security. We show how government policies supported by international donors, and introduced to strengthen tenure rights for the rural population actually reduce villagers’ legally permitted agricultural areas. Even if district-level land use regulations do not currently exclude local communities from their land, land use plans lay the groundwork for potentially excluding villagers from large land areas. We find that plural, contradictory regulations and policies, combined with existing power inequalities result in a “filter mechanism” that reduces the practical impact of legal instruments and safeguards aimed at strengthening the least powerful actors’ rights. Our results add to other authors’ arguments that political and legal changes are mediated by power relations, cultural norms and economic incentives, by highlighting that the duel-edged rights sword may actually end up paving the way for greater state control over future benefits derived from community areas classified as forest lands. This is especially relevant when preparing REDD+, which we show is likely to weaken rather than strengthen tenure security for rural populations.

Keywords: land use planning; access; tenure security; legal pluralism; REDD+; Laos (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2017
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